So the CDC has recommended wearing cloth masks. Here’s why and what you can do.

Written By: Jeanette McConnell, PhD

The CDC has recommended “wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.” 

This is the latest in health and safety recommendations that the CDC have shared since the spread of SARS-CoV-2 began.

Which means that in addition to wearing a mask you should also be… 

  1. Staying home as much as possible. Only go out for essential business. 
  2. Washing your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds. 
  3. Not touching your face with unwashed hands. 

Some vocab: SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the specific type of coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19.

Prior to this mask wearing recommendation, the CDC was clear that the virus can be transmitted via droplets when a person who is infected coughs or sneezes. This droplet could unwittingly shoot right into your mouth or nose but more likely it will settle onto a surface and then you could touch that surface and then touch your face and become infected too. 

This is still all correct. 

The new mask wearing guideline comes as additional information about how the SARS-CoV-2 virus can be transmitted was communicated to the CDC. Data shows that the virus can be spread not only via droplets but also via aerosols. 

The virus can become aerosolized and linger, floating in the air, where an infected person was merely breathing, talking, coughing or sneezing. They can also travel further than the 6ft social distancing guideline and linger in the air for an extended period of time from minutes to hours.

It important to note that the dose or exposure time required to become infected via the virus in aerosols is not yet known.

But the closer and longer you are near someone shedding the virus the more likely you are to breathe it in. Wearing a mask can limit how much virus an infected person emits and how much a non-infected person breathes in.

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Remember, aerosols are tiny bits of solids & liquids that become suspended in the air. They are usually microscopic and cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Wearing a cloth mask is a way to decrease the likelihood that you will breathe in any droplets or aerosols that contain SARS-CoV-2. It also decreases the likelihood that you will pass the virus to someone else if you are asymptomatic. Help yourself and help others!
There are many easy ways and many different types of materials to make a mask out of, but some are more protective than others. Check out this page and graph that compare different types of materials ability to filter out droplets and aerosols.

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** Remember you do not need a N95 mask. These are currently in short supply and it is vital that our health care workers who are caring for our loved ones with COVID-19 have these masks. 

The CDC has some examples and guides for making different versions of a cloth mask here. There are guides for no-sew masks and masks that require a sewing machine. 

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

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